Flummoxed by Rahul Gandhi’s comments in US

Rahul Gandhi is on a 10-day tour of the United States and “as expected”, his statements made overseas are generating a lot of political heat in India. In fact, some of the videos of his interactions with the general public, journalists and think-tanks make for baffling viewing. Which mature political leader aspiring to be India’s Prime Minister will insult the incumbent Prime Minister as a “specimen” or mock the Hindu custom of “shashtang pranam” as “lying down”, when he himself has done it before? Who is Rahul Gandhi trying to convince? Who is his audience? If it is the Americans, they are not voting for him. If it is the Indian voter, then such comments will not go down well with them, because these are often divorced from reality, are sometimes disrespectful, and can be an electoral liability. For instance, he is constantly harping on the loss of democracy in India, the loss of space for having a conversation. If there is one thing that Indians truly believe in, it is democracy, which is in their DNA. In the history of independent India, if there has been a period without democracy, ironically, it was when Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Otherwise, there has been smooth transfer of power all through, just as it happened in Karnataka last month, when the Congress defeated the ruling BJP. But the undeclared Congress chief would rather paint a bleak picture of India being a police state, where people, primarily minorities are oppressed, where there is no freedom to practice one’s own religion, the nation is divided, there is a lack of harmony, economic growth has stalled, where the media is not free—an Indian dystopia straight out of the western freedom and democracy indices that have ensured India’s rankings hit the rock bottom, sometimes even lower than Afghanistan’s and Syria’s. The question here is: is Rahul Gandhi thus feeding the confirmation bias of a section in the West; or does the bias in the West have its roots in the Congress party’s ecosystem? It is almost as if unable to match Prime Minister Narendra Modi at home, the ecosystem has escalated things to global levels, seeking support. And looking at the people surrounding him during this trip, it is a bit surprising to see those associated with organisations such as the IAMC (Indian American Muslim Council) and with George Soros. The least that someone like Sam Pitroda, who seems to be the brain behind Rahul Gandhi’s itinerary in the US, could have done was to ensure that the former Congress president was shielded from controversial associations that are bound to be amplified by the BJP. But then this is the same Sam Pitroda whose latest soundbites mocking the construction of the Ram Mandir as a “non-job generator” have started doing the rounds in India, proving once again how out of touch with the ground Rahul Gandhi’s immediate advisors are.
In mature democracies in the West it is not taken kindly when their own politicians berate their ruling governments in front of foreign audiences, publicly/officially. Those who go to the West to speak of their own country’s problems are generally dissidents and rights activists from countries that are ruled by dictators—Russia, China or North Korea, or are countries that are influenced by these totalitarian states or are under military rule. By airing grievances against India’s government in the West, is Rahul Gandhi trying to imply to the world that India is now a totalitarian state? Also, it is amazing that the most outlandish charges made against India are going unchallenged by Rahul Gandhi. At a press club interaction in Washington DC, the host equated India’s political situation with that of Pakistan, without a word of protest coming from Rahul Gandhi. In a similar vein, Rahul Gandhi did not protest when the host said that the Citizenship Amendment Act is meant to take away the citizenship of Muslims, when it is just a means to fast track the citizenship of persecuted minorities fleeing to India from neighbouring countries. In response, Rahul Gandhi just spoke of all Indian people having the right to expression. And then there was the blooper about the Indian Union Muslim League being a secular party.
A legitimate question in such circumstances is, if Rahul Gandhi is actually trying to consolidate the minority vote in favour of the Congress by making such statements. After all, in Karnataka, a consolidation of the minority vote—86% of it—brought the Congress to power. As a politician he thinks that he can repeat that experiment in future elections too. He has every right to pursue whatever strategy he wants to. But as an Indian, he should pursue that strategy without treading into questionable territory, by letting wild claims go unchallenged, or by making wild claims himself to a foreign audience. In the end, his ten days in the US are not yet over, so Indians back home are likely to be bombarded with more such pearls of wisdom, much to their bemusement.

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